Waste not, want more

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Minimalism and Making Room for Rice

I have been itching to tackle consumption and minimalism in a post for some time and putting off actually doing the tackling. A recent blog post by Karim Osman that generated many comments got me back in gear. It discussed the merits of minimalism and emphasized getting rid of things, purging, clearing out and otherwise freeing your material and digital self. There are after all environmental, financial, and personal reasons to keep it simple. He wrote:

Back then I spend most of my money on clothes and footwear. Yet I never knew what to wear and always wanted something new. Over the years I lost my obsession and went from 50 to 6 pair of shoes. Do you still remember which shoes you had 5 years ago? Not really right? That’s how “important” they were to you. Remember the trip you did with your family or friends 5 years ago? You probably do! It was definitely worth spending money on that because it’s something you’d never forget.

I generally agree, though I think there is something to be said for keeping some generally useful but unused things when they aren’t getting in your way. A costume box/ridiculous items of clothing, a couple of dresses that I can rarely wear places, blankets, and buckets come to mind. The used Tupperware veggie-serving tray I bought two years ago that has not yet been used could probably go. But it doesn’t have to if I think I will be out buying a new one within a year to serve the same purpose. Of course, if that serving tray starts dictating that a larger home is in order, it’s time to reevaluate.

Purging is great, but the biggest problem on my list of modern temptations I deem sinful, is that we’re as good or better at accumulating things again than we are getting rid of them.

But what I’d like to take to task is the questioning look, spark of anger, or downright disdain for those who work hard to get life down to the necessities plus a few items of great pleasure, and stay there; those who want to avoid buying new stuff; or those who limit the luxuries available to their kids (while they can). People seem pretty quick to judge those that make an effort not to consume. There are minimalist-types who are preachy about their life choices and that can be annoying and inspire retaliation – that’s not really what I mean. I’m more concerned about the general belief system that underlies the uninvited judgment on those who try to keep it simple.

A Globe and Mail article by Rachel Jonat prompted my original draft. It chronicles the story of her Vancouver family  and illustrates this potential for judgment:

Family and friends have been supportive, skeptical or adamant that we are making a huge mistake. We have been gentle with our words on the subject, and often tell people that it’s not for everyone.

I documented our journey on a blog (theminimalistmom.com)  and found it to be the best way to connect with other minimalist families. There aren’t a lot of us. The home is mostly a female domain and women tend to be shoppers, gatherers and collectors. Deciding to live with less and not spend money as a hobby or an emotional pick-me-up has alienated me from a few friends. While I don’t preach about it in person, several friends have read my thoughts on the subject on my blog and have quietly stopped inviting me to social events. I’m okay with this. My closest friends, regardless of their affinity for minimalism, have been supportive even if they are holding onto over-stuffed closets themselves.

It strikes me as pretty powerful that she’s actually experienced warnings of a “huge mistake” and alienation from friends as a result of this shift but it doesn’t surprise me. Though my life is not nearly as pared down as hers sounds, some of the most awkward times for me have occurred for similar reasons. For example, when I’m talking to a person who loves gadgets, has all the newest technology and thinks that I should too, it can be difficult to explain that I don’t feel the need, would prefer not to spend the money, or like to keep it simple without provoking a defensive reaction or a mild insult. I recognize that this person has no more than many others and I try to be respectful about it, making fun of myself, but that doesn’t cure the discomfort, or sometimes, the judgment.

I’ve certainly taken flak from certain members of my family for discouraging presents, random unnecessary items, and – most prominently – for refusing to buy a rice cooker, of all things. The rice cooker has now become my minimalist logo. I have no moral vendetta when it comes to the little space machines, but to my mind the principle is simple: I need and have pots. Pots cook rice well. Right now I don’t mind getting up to turn down the heat or check whether it’s done. I am not a rice fanatic that could justify to herself the purchase of a rice cooker. I’m sure there are others who reasonably could, like I justify my camera. Likewise, I don’t have a kettle. Pots are good at boiling water, too. However, I continue to receive comments about things like the cooker that would change my life. I’m stubborn, I’m cheap (I am cheap, but that wouldn’t stop me), or I’m a contrarian. Actually, I just really get off on not having stuff I don’t need, and clutter is my mortal enemy.

I am keenly aware, however, that this approach will get more problematic as time marches. I remain unprepared for the battles I might endure if I were to have kids. I’ve got a mental rulebook regarding number of gifts, newness of gifts (used!), questionable nutritional quality of gifts, and pinkness of gifts (unrelated issue) that could really generate some tensions with grandparents and others. I’m positive it will generate closeted criticism, but I guess that’s parenting. Friends of mine have told me about their experiences, including grandparents mourning the loss of their right to spoil and people questioning the quality of life of a 14 month old without a relatively fulsome set of toys.

In case it’s not obvious, that worries me. Are we so concerned with justifying our own stuff that we insist that babies have it all, too? Do we really think that toddlers are missing out on childhood because they have far more toys than they can remember? Is my life less worthy without the rice cooker? Was I put on this earth to annoy people? Do people have some point that I’m just ignoring?

____

Apparently my writing could use some minimalism – my apologies!

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October 17, 2011 Posted by | Consumption, Irritated, News, Waste | , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Who me? Well if you insist. No, thanks.

The Facts (forgive me, I’m studying for exams at the moment. Clearly. I’m studying, really. This is me studying. Maybe it’s more believable to say I’m writing a paper. Okay, this is me writing a paper.):

The illustrious blogger Dana of zonapellucida fame recently wrote about her bucket list. You know the one: before I die I want to … list.  I commented on said blog that among my bucket list items is the desire to refuse an award for political reasons. Dana, being the thoughtful and hilarious person that she is is giving me my shot. I feel like one of those lonesome Midwestern kids who heads out to California with a dream and a floppy backpack seeking fame and fortune. This is the part where the Hollywood producer passes me in his convertible while I’m standing on a street corner (for no professional reason), slams on the brakes, vaults himself out of the car, grabs my face and says “Darling, you’re going to be a star!” Well it’s kind of like that.

Anyway (ahem)… my shot is as follows. Dana has nominated/awarded me with a (nameless?) blogging award. Rather than graciously accept and pretend I deserve it, I am going to less-graciously refuse and pretend I deserve even better. Were I to accept the award, the rules dictate that I share 7 things about myself. Instead, I will share 7 reasons why I reject this fine blog award honour:

This is what aloof rejection looks like.

1. Because anyone I can think of who has ever refused an award for political reasons was offered the award in benevolence for recognition of something relatively fantastic. Refusing award = accepting the compliment.

2. I will make public confessions and other personal revelations on my blog when I feel like it. I don’t need no stinkin award to bribe me into doing it. Not that I mind, of course, but I don’t need it.

3. Because chain letters, awards, bread starters, and games of tag are scourges of the earth that I am compelled to speak out against. The social pressure to “pass it on” on the one hand and the pressure to “not even think about passing it on to me” on the other makes for awkward times for those of us that aim to please. This form of subjugation by the man has to stop.

4. Because rejecting the award means I don’t have to come up with 15 other bloggers to give it to. Aside from finding this politically appalling (see 3), I am lazy and can think of other better ways to procrastinate (like planning next semester’s classes).

5. Because it is complete crap that the broadcast consortium voted to keep Elizabeth May, leader of Canada’s Green Party,* out of Canada’s current federal election leadership debate. While this is in no way tied to the actual award, I feel I should actually say something that sounds political and take a stand-y. … There. Stand taken.

6. The digital footprint of people declining awards is teeny and dominated by men. It happens, but we’re just not uploading it. I’m doing my part. (Please fill me in. I’m sure there’ve been some goodies.)

7. Because if I don’t reject this award, I risk never achieving my bucket list item of refusing an award for political reasons. I find that politically offensive.

* The Green Party received 7% of the vote in the last federal (Canadian) election whereas all other “fringe parties” received 1% combined (Communist, Marijuana and so forth).

April 5, 2011 Posted by | Brackets, News, Politics, Self-reflection | , , | 3 Comments

Warning! Lecture Zone: Generalize at your own risk

There is one blanket statement that I can accept: “Blanket statements are the devil.”

The Dictionary of Rose, 30th ed., 2011 defines blanket statement as “a jerk-bum method of communicating that involves stereotyping to the nth degree and lumping the worst of anything in with the best and the averagest anythings.”

Clear? Probably not. What I am getting at is our willingness, me included, to say things that we don’t really mean. I’m talking about things beyond light-hearted exaggeration and sarcasm (though maybe we – yes, as a people – are far too willing to be insincere and coy rather than directly saying how we feel about something or someone). Call me some sort of accuracy fascist, or hater of artistic license, but I think casual society (how’s that for a phrase?) and the language pendulum have gone too far.  It’s just too cool to slam, disavow, and point out the worst. Criticism has its place but we should also be capable of giving positive feedback, and recognizing strengths, beauty and wonder.

Aside: I have been known to be hyper-critical in my day and I will acknowledge this. I can definitely overdo it, and focus more on the negative than the positive, though I’m learning I cannot hold a candle to some.

But my point is not our willingness to criticize. My real issue is one specific symptom of this critical culture: the earlier mentioned blanket statement. To achieve the desired effect of our statement, do we really need to say or imply that all X are/do/have Y? Really? How has language arrived at this place? Has it always been this way?

Essentially, I think we’re (often) too happy to make these all or nothing statements without acknowledging exceptions. Granted, you cannot follow every sentence with “well, not everybody.” But is there any reason we can’t use words like “sometimes” or “on Tuesdays” or “I feel like”? Heaven forbid we occasionally go so far as to say, “maybe I’m wrong but…” or “ it seems, in some cases”!

I could get over it. Just words, right? Sticks and stones and all that. However, I think carelessness with language has real harms. It stifles debate (because if you’re wasting time responding to garbage, you don’t get to make a real point) and contributes to the type of hyperbolic non-conversation that has been so damaging for example in recent American political debate. On a touchy feely level, it also just hurts sometimes or at the very least it annoys me – always (oops, there I go). Observe the table:

Statement Accuracy Level harm-unfairness-annoyance
Wool is itchy Not true The wool industry suffers from your negligent statement and what about lovely merino?
Women love shoes and shopping Not true If I don’t love shoes and shopping, I’m not a “real” woman
Canada is cold in winter Mostly true, but not everywhere, all the time When you travel to Antarctica in January people might say at least it’s not Canada
Lawyers have to work long hours to succeed Not true If you can’t work 80 hours a week due to life, family obligations or a disability, you  can’t be a lawyer. Too bad!
Mr. T is a useless teacher Not true Useless is pretty strong and I learned things from Mr. T
Canadian water is pristine Potable in most places, but not everywhere It ignores that numerous small communities and First Nations are often exposed to e.coli and other issues
Middle-aged white guys are all bad Not true We’d all be missing out on the lovely middle-aged white guys out there

While my examples aren’t serious, I am. Really, horrendously, embarrassingly serious. I cannot think of a time when a generalization has done any good. Let’s get comfortable with uncertainty and subtlety. Everything has a context and maybe we should be spending a little more time giving context to what we say. Maybe people are also more likely not to misconstrue our statements if we explain what we mean more fully. Or maybe not. See how I did that?

PS: I’m very interested in being/willing to be called out on this. Please.

March 25, 2011 Posted by | Bad TV References, Brackets, Childhood Complaints, Irritated, News, Wild Animals | | 4 Comments

Today, I’m spouting the F-word

In celebration of International Women’s Day, I’m giving a quick shout out to feminism in all its stripes. A great deal, too much maybe, has been said about feminism. I can’t pretend that I will add anything of use to the commentary, but I’ll write all the same. It’s too important and I silence myself too often (cause ladies do that sort of thing). Consider this the pablum/coles notes version of my perspective on feminism. Maybe if I use the word feminism enough, people will stop going into shock when they  hear/read it – ambitious, I guess.

Feminists are accused of being man-haters, or impliedly worse, lesbians at one extreme (when all else fails, throw in a little homophobia) or passé people stuck in the 60s on the other. Here comes my radical thesis: men and women have not reached a place of substantive equality in Canada or elsewhere. Until they do, anyone who cares about the gap can call themselves a feminist in my opinion (p.s. This includes men!). While the social and economic gap between men and women is starker in other countries around the world, it is still very alive here in Canada.

1) First I’d like to touch on the 3 part myth  of women, oft perpetuated in literature, TV, and our own peanut-sized brains. Women are often portrayed as either

  • the mother: wholesome and nutritious, good for feeding and cuddling
    • undertone: boring at parties, unattractive
  • the virgin: virtuous and innocent, good for marrying and bearing offspring
    • undertone: stupid, easily led astray, frigid
  • the whore: dirty and knowing, comes out at night, good for sex and seedy pleasures
    • undertone: can’t take her to business functions, diseased and depraved

No person is this one-dimensional yet these myths continue to shape our thinking. The law still often relies on these myths. Which takes me to my next point:

2) Sexual assault. It sucks and nobody likes to talk about it, but it happens. And sexual assault (which in Canadian law includes rape but means in essence any unwanted sexual touching) is very  much a gendered thing. Overwhelmingly, it is women that experience sexual assault. For me, this is the most obvious reason why feminism has a ton of work left to do. Only because women are more socially vulnerable and seen as less worthy of respect do they experience the brunt of sexual violence. Feminist women and men have to do a much better job talking about why all sexual violence is unacceptable. I should leave this topic to people who are much more convincing, but I can’t without also mentioning that sexual crime is horrifically unreported arguably in large part due to the legal system’s willingness, accompanied by the general public, to blame the victims of sexual violence (the “she was asking for it” defence):

3) Many people have heard about the gender wage gap. In Canada, despite more women becoming executives, filling other high-paying positions, and attending post-secondary institutions in record numbers, there remains a gap between the average woman’s wage and the average man’s. Some would say that this is because more women stay home to raise children and do lower paying work. Both of these things are true. Though there are many problems with those arguments, I will only raise a couple here. Maybe part of the reason women are more likely to stay home with children is that they don’t make as much money. If a two-parent family is going to make a choice, it is often on that basis. Secondly, work that is traditionally done by women is undervalued (child care is a fine example). And,  unlike in some jurisdictions, families in Canada receive no incentive to equalize child care responsibilities between women and men. Some have said that access to child care for low to middle-income families is one of the biggest barriers to equality (note: I am not suggesting that anyone who chooses to stay home with their children is doing anything wrong, but I can’t ignore that among the poorest Canadians, this choice becomes very difficult).

This British video does a fantastic job of touching on some of the ways that women experience the world differently than men:

It almost softens me to the fact that the Bond franchise uses women like a sexual circus side-show. There I said it. It’s good to get that one off my chest.

March 8, 2011 Posted by | Brackets, Childhood Complaints, Doing it the hard way, Irritated, Law, News | , | 3 Comments

Who doesn’t love a snow day – oh right, those people

So snow is not exactly every person’s first love. I get it. It increases accidents, slows things down, and in some cases buries your home so completely you can’t see out. But not here in Victoria, of course.

I on the other hand, love it when snow, or any other weather phenomenon says, “Hey, you. Yeah, you! You’re not such a big deal. I’m in charge now. And you’re going to know it, too!” It sounds aggressive, but really dramatic weather is a big softy. “I’m not doing this to be mean. It’s just my time to shine. And you were getting a bit big for your britches. You know, hubris and all. You just haven’t got the control you think you do and the sooner you recognize it, the easier life will be.” (Tell that to the “let’s just bury our carbon emissions and keep trucking” people)

I also love making snow angels. And strutting around in the yard with my shirt off taking pictures. Oh wait, that’s my neighbours…

Oh, yes.

Well, at least I didn’t take pictures. 🙂

Admittedly, I too used to love being buried in snow and burying my friends. I would probably still do it, too. But I might stop the crazy lady across the street from documenting.

What I woke up to

Snow is large and in charge, when it happens. Though I might never again experience walking, sorry trudging, to school in two feet of snow and feeling like an Olympian when I finally get there, I enjoy it mightily all the same. Snow – I shall submit to your control just as long as you promise to show up every now and again. Keep it fluffy!

February 23, 2011 Posted by | Brackets, Consumption, Doing it the hard way, News | , | 1 Comment

Report: Nerd Derives Self-Esteem from Pathetic Places

I have always been a “smarty-pants”. I don’t confuse this with being intelligent. Well, at least I don’t now, but I won’t make any promises about my past selves.

As a kid, my brother took pride in teaching me how to read (Him: “Sound it out”. Me: “SH – IT. SH*T”). My family would tell stories about the precocious things I said as a three-year-old. My dad would quiz me on my times-tables and get too happy when I could answer right away. I was told I would go to University (a fairly lucky thing in my family) from a very young age. Friends would ask me for help in class. I got 2nd place in a spelling bee, which at the time seemed like 2nd in a queen of the world contest, but upon contemplation I realize is not a sign of special powers. Friends parents would say things like, “But Rose can tell time on a regular clock” (The pleasure I took in these things is highly embarrassing, but I always felt gross when parents said that stuff to my friends. We don’t say these things out loud, don’t you know.)  Coupled with a nasty-sized need for approval, this made for some interesting results.

On the other hand, as I saw it, when the universe was doling out physical ability, it looked at me and said, “are you kidding, her head would explode.” It took me longer to learn how to tie my shoes, ride my bike, or do a cartwheel than my friends; in the case of the cartwheel, I’m still waiting for inspiration to strike. I was fearful AND hated being bad at things (still working on that), which did not make for much experimentation or effort on my part. As an aside, I think a big part of the problem here was that I did not believe I was athletically inclined. Only in more recent years, out of stubborness and thinking that it might be possible have I attempted to do things like swim a kilometre, hike, cycle 100 km a week, or actually deign to use gym equipment (and sometimes succeeded). This means I have missed out, a lot.

The point is, I liked doing what I was good at (academics) and hated doing what I wasn’t (sports and other body movement pursuits). Later in high school and especially in University, I started to appreciate just how many people learned more quickly than me, worked harder for their academic achievements, knew more, and could understand things better than I could. I slowly began to grapple with my own mental mortality (sorry, universe). The battle is a tough one, since I learned to get most of my self-worth from my brain.

What is all this leading to? A confession! Surprise, surprise. I have always loved filling out forms. That’s it. The dirty, ugly truth.

I loved completing forms but could never figure out why. Give me the intake form at a new dentist’s office, an application form, a questionnaire about my feelings, and I come alive with enthusiasm and joy. How could such a simple, and sometimes annoying thing give me such pleasure? The realization came to me today, and I am not a better person for it. I love to fill out forms because (please prepare yourself, this is a new plane of pathetic)… I KNOW ALL THE ANSWERS (please don’t tell anybody). I like to see a blank and fill it with correct information. Name: Rose (haha, got that one). Favourite colour: Blue (take that!). Occupation: Student (moment of doubt, does that count? Sure!) Date: January 16, 2011 (I am acing this thing. And I’m fast, too.).

Woe is me.

Of course, give me a blank that I don’t know the answer to, or can’t easily figure out and it’s like I’ve run to the high jump on sports day only to stop suddenly, stare at the bar in agony and burst into tears all over again. (How could I be so stupid?) I deserve no oxygen if I can’t understand the question. It is a sad state of affairs.

Signing up for self-worth classes should be an interesting experience…

January 16, 2011 Posted by | Brackets, Childhood Complaints, Hypotheticals, News, Self-reflection | | 3 Comments

The Orca Playground: To Watch or not to Watch

Personal work on a project has made the issue of better regulation of marine tour operations (and all marine boaters) an issue dearer to my heart:

Whale watching is a pretty big deal along the southern coast of BC, including Victoria and Vancouver (and into Washington). Outfits garner a lot of attention from tourists, bring considerable revenue to the area, and educate people about marine wildlife. However, orcas, and particularly the southern residents prevalent in local waters, are endangered. Food stocks and contaminated marine waters are the two biggest threats to orcas, one of BC’s favourite icons. Noise disturbance is also a very significant threat. Our waters and the animals that occupy them are exposed to constant boat traffic. The long-term effects of these disturbances on whales are unknown. A recent court decision found that Canada has failed under its own law to designate critical habitat for killer whales. In the meantime the critical habitat is consistently invaded by creatures it is not so critical to (like us); some of these creatures do not know how to minimize their impact.

These facts justify a precautionary approach to the protection of orcas. The precautionary principle requires that people and governments take action to prevent reaching a point of no return. Scientists have already identified these threats to orcas; strong measures must be taken to prevent further damage while we continue to learn. These precautionary measures can and should include substantial changes to the Canadian Marine Mammal Regulations…

-Report: Recommendations to Reform the Laws Protecting Orca from Boat Traffic, p. 5.

Please see this recent article in the Vancouver Sun. (If it makes it any more enticing, yours truly had a hand in this story.) If you’re really keen you can see the full report on which the article is based. To hear two perspectives on this  issue, listen to the podcast of a recent debate.

January 4, 2011 Posted by | Law, News, Wild Animals | , | 2 Comments